Tsotsi by Gavin Hood

Tsotsi, winner of 2005 Oscar's Best Foreign Film award

Tsotsi, a South African film directed by Gavin Hood, is this year's Oscar winner for Best Foreign film.

I saw both Tsotsi and L'Enfant by the Dardenne brothers in the past week. Both share some similarities. Which is about the protagonist's life being changed completely with the sudden appearance of an infant. Both films are character studies that deal with redemption. The protagonists are bastards engaged in numerous nauseatingly heinous deeds at the beginning, making it difficult for you to feel sympathetic for them, yet strangely, you would emphatize with them as the films progress.

However, both have vastly different stylistic approaches. Tsotsi is a highly-stylized film where the village resided by the protagonist, Tsotsi (which means 'thug' in their language) is tinged with golden light as if it was something from the Old West, while the protagonist and his underlings are like gunslingers (I would say cowboys, but nowadays, thanks to Brokeback Mountain, cowboys just ain't taken seriously anymore). It's briskly-paced, colourful, and beautiful to look at. And it's slightly more sentimental, but not melodramatic. 'Kwaito', which, I think is Africa's version of hip-hop, is used extensively throughout the film. The scenery and settings of the film are stunningly beautiful, steel skyscrapers of a modern city can be seen looming in the distance, far away from Tsotsi's village. Both places are divided by a wasteland which the hero crossed a few times. The city belong to the medium and upper class whilst the villagers languish in poverty.

Tsotsi (Presley Chweneyagae) is a thug who leads a band of murderous petty thieves. On one rainy night, Tsotsi shot down a woman to steal her car, only to realize in horror that there was another passenger with him, a baby. Putting the baby in a shopping bag, he attempted to keep the baby alive by seeking the help of a young widowed seamstress in the village. The baby, innocent and pure, made Tsotsi revisit memories from a violent childhood, and thus began a journey towards redemption and taking the responsiblity on what he had done.

Tsotsi (and L'enfant, really) had open-ended endings, but enough to leave viewers slightly optimistic about the protagonists' future (their fates in the end are similar). Ultimately, both films are not just about redemption, they are also about taking responsibility and facing the consequences of one's own actions. No one can escape from the cycle of karma, and ultimately, the protagonists have seemingly walked off from a path of self-destruction due to the fact that they were aware of the implications of their wrongdoings.

Tsotsi trailer: